Yahweh’s Heart in Marriage

In this study we will see that Yahweh defines divorce much differently than we do in the West (circa 2013 CE). For example, in Jeremiah 3:8, Yahweh said He divorced Ephraim, and “put her away”—yet in verse 14 He said He is still “married” to her. What this shows us that Yahweh does not believe His divorce terminated His marriage to Ephraim. Rather, Yahweh’s divorce was only a temporary disciplinary measure intended to correct His adulterous wife—and He continued to seek her out, in order to woo her back to Him.

Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 3:1-14
1 “They say, ‘If a man divorces his wife, and she goes from him and becomes another man’s, may he return to her again?’ Would not that land be greatly polluted? But you have played the harlot with many lovers; yet return to Me,” says Yahweh.
2 “Lift up your eyes to the desolate heights and see: Where have you not lain with men? By the road you have sat for them like an Arabian in the wilderness; and you have polluted the land with your harlotries and your wickedness.
3 Therefore the showers have been withheld, and there has been no latter rain. You have had a harlot’s forehead; You refuse to be ashamed.
4 Will you not from this time cry to Me, ‘My Father, You are the guide of my youth?
5 Will He remain angry forever? Will He keep it to the end?’ Behold, you have spoken and done evil things, as you were able.”
6 Yahweh said also to me in the days of Josiah the king: “Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there played the harlot.
7 And I said, after she had done all these things, ‘Return to Me.’ But she did not return. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it.
8 Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also.
9 So it came to pass, through her casual harlotry, that she defiled the land and committed adultery with stones and trees.
10 And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah has not turned to Me with her whole heart, but in pretense,” says Yahweh.
11 Then Yahweh said to me, “Backsliding Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah.
12 Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say: ‘Return, backsliding Israel,’ says Yahweh; ‘I will not cause My anger to fall on you. For I am merciful,’ says Yahweh; ‘I will not remain angry forever.
13 Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against Yahweh your Elohim, and have scattered your charms to alien deities under every green tree, and you have not obeyed My voice,’ says Yahweh.
14 “Return, O backsliding children,” says Yahweh; “for I am married to you. I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion.”

Since Yahweh would not contradict His own Torah, His request that Ephraim return to Him cannot conflict with Deuteronomy 24, which says that a man may divorce his wife if he first writes her a certificate of divorce (called a “sefer k’ritute”, סֵפֶר כְּרִיתֻת), and sends her out of his house (וְשִׁלְּחָהּ מִבֵּיתוֹ).

Deuteronomy 24:1-4
1 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some (sexual) uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house,
2 when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife,
3 if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife,
4 then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before YHWH, and you shall not bring sin on the land which YHWH your Elohim is giving you as an inheritance.”

(1) כִּי יִקַּח אִישׁ אִשָּׁה וּבְעָלָהּ | וְהָיָה אִם לֹא תִמְצָא חֵן בְּעֵינָיו כִּי מָצָא בָהּ עֶרְוַת דָּבָר וְכָתַב לָהּ סֵפֶר כְּרִיתֻת וְנָתַן בְּיָדָהּ וְשִׁלְּחָהּ מִבֵּיתוֹ:
(2) וְיָצְאָה מִבֵּיתוֹ | וְהָלְכָה וְהָיְתָה לְאִישׁ אַחֵר:
(3) וּשְׂנֵאָהּ הָאִישׁ הָאַחֲרוֹן וְכָתַב לָהּ סֵפֶר כְּרִיתֻת וְנָתַן בְּיָדָהּ וְשִׁלְּחָהּ מִבֵּיתוֹ | אוֹ כִי יָמוּת הָאִישׁ הָאַחֲרוֹן אֲשֶׁר לְקָחָהּ לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה:
(4) לֹא יוּכַל בַּעְלָהּ הָרִאשׁוֹן אֲשֶׁר שִׁלְּחָהּ לָשׁוּב לְקַחְתָּהּ לִהְיוֹת לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה אַחֲרֵי אֲשֶׁר הֻטַּמָּאָה כִּי תוֹעֵבָה הִוא לִפְנֵי יְהוָה | וְלֹא תַחֲטִיא אֶת הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה

The purpose of giving her a divorce certificate is not to be rid of her forever—for that would be contrary to Yahweh’s example. If a man divorces his wife, she should not remarry—she should repent, and turn back to Him. However, if she does decide to do the wrong thing, and she remarries, she can never return to her former husband, for when she forms a new marriage covenant, it voids out her prior marriage(s) forever.

In verse 1, the Hebrew for uncleanness is ervat (עֶרְוַת), which refers to baring the pudenda (external genitals).

OT:6172 `ervah (er-vaw’); from OT:6168; nudity, literally (especially the pudenda) or figuratively (disgrace, blemish):
KJV – nakedness, shame, unclean (-ness).

When we look up the reference in Strong’s Hebrew Concordance, OT:6168 refers to a woman making herself bare (i.e., exposing her genitals). In context it refers to a wife who is “getting naked” with someone other than her husband.

OT:6168 `arah (aw-raw’); a primitive root; to be (causatively, make) bare; hence, to empty, pour out, demolish:
KJV – leave destitute, discover, empty, make naked, pour (out), rase, spreadself, uncover.

Although Ephraim was adulterous, because she never remarried, she can return to Yahweh without breaking either the letter or the spirit of Deuteronomy 24 (above).

One thing we need to know is that because Yahweh made men and women different, He made the rules for men and women different. While lifetime monogamy is the marital ideal, Scripture allows men to take more than one wife, even though a woman is never allowed to have more than one husband. In fact, in certain situations Yahweh even commands men to take a wife (as a duty), whether he is already married or not.

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 25:5-6
5 “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband’s brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.
6 And it shall be that the firstborn son which she bears will succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.”

The reverse, however, is not true. A woman can never have more than one husband—and as we will see, in the land of Israel under a Torah government, in order for her to remarry at all she must first be released by her husband, or any new marriage she enters into is adulterous (because she is already married). One proof of this is found in the story of Herodias, who divorced her husband Phillip in order to marry King Herod. Josephus tells us that she took it upon herself to “confound the laws of our country” by initiating the divorce herself.

Herodias took upon her to confound the laws of our country, and divorced herself from her husband while he was alive, and was married to Herod Antipas [Whiston translation]

In more detail, King Herod had a half-brother named Philip, who’s wife’s name was Herodias. Herod fell in lust with Herodias, and he wooed her, talking her into leaving Philip, and marrying him—so she did. Their marriage was adulterous right from the start because Philip had not released her, and women do not have the authority in Scripture to initiate divorce themselves. The narrative is thick, but Josephus talks about their marriage in Antiquities of the Jews, 18:5:1.

[Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18:5:1]
1. About this time Aretas (the king of Arabia Petres) and Herod (the Great) had a quarrel on the account following: Herod the tetrarch had, married the daughter of Aretas, and had lived with her a great while; but when he was once at Rome, he lodged with Herod (i.e., Philip), who was his (half) brother indeed, but not by the same mother; for this Herod (i.e., Philip) was the son of the high priest Sireoh’s daughter. However, he fell in love with Herodias, this last Herod’s (i.e., Philip’s) wife, who was the daughter of Aristobulus their brother, and the sister of Agrippa the Great. This man (Herod the Great) ventured to talk to her about a marriage between them; which address, when she admitted, an agreement was made for her to change her habitation, and come to him as soon as he should return from Rome….

This is likely why Yochanan HaMatbil (John the Baptist) said it was not lawful for Herod to have her.

Mattityahu (Matthew) 14:3-4
3 For Herod had laid hold of Yochanan and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife.
4 Because Yochanan had said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.”

Romans 7:2-3 speaks to this same principle. Shaul tells us that a woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives, and is not released until he dies. In verse 3 he tells us that if she marries another man (while her husband is alive) she will be called an adulteress.

Romim (Romans) 7:2-4
2 For the woman who has a husband is bound by the Torah to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the Torah of her husband.
3 So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that Torah, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.

Shaul is summarizing the Torah here, but if we go back to Deuteronomy 24, Yahweh tells us that a woman who has been given a bill of divorcement hypothetically can remarry—it is just that it is best if she does not. However, if her husband does not give her a bill of divorce in keeping with Deuteronomy 24 (should only mean she has committed some sexually immoral act), then she may not remarry at all. This is also why it would have been adulterous for Pharaoh to marry Sarai (Sarah).

B’reisheet (Genesis) 12:17-19
17 But Yahweh plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Avram’s wife.
18 And Pharaoh called Avram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?
19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’? I might have taken her as my wife. Now therefore, here is your wife; take her and go your way.”

David’s wife Michal was not sexually immoral against him, and David never divorced her. However, Michal’s father King Shaul was trying to kill David. Had he been successful, Michal would have been released from her marriage to David, which may be why King Shaul gave Michal to Paltiel.

Shemuel Aleph (1st Samuel) 25:44
44 But Shaul had given Michal his daughter, David’s wife, to Palti the son of Laish, who was from Gallim.

However, King Shaul did not succeed in killing David. Therefore David was right to demand that Michal be taken back from Paltiel without a divorce certificate—because the marriage between Michal and Paltiel had been adulterous right from the start.

Shemuel Bet (2nd Samuel) 3:14-15
14 So David sent messengers to Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, saying, “Give me my wife Michal, whom I betrothed to myself for a hundred foreskins of the Philistines.”
15 And Ishbosheth sent and took her from her husband, from Paltiel the son of Laish.

Yahweh thinks of marriage as a lifelong covenant—and unless her husband dies, Yahweh wants women to marry only once, and stay married for life.

We are called to a spiritual walk, and the focus is not to be on living our lives in the world, but upon serving Him in the Spirit. Shaul tells us that a man who finds himself “loosed from” his wife should ideally not remarry, but refocus himself completely on Yahweh. However, Shaul says if he does remarry, he has not sinned—and a virgin or a widow who marries has not sinned. That is because marriage is a noble institution, if we use it to serve Yahweh in the Spirit.

Qorintim Aleph (1st Corinthians) 7:27-31
27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife.
28 But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you.
29 But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none,
30 those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess,
31 and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away.

Shaul tells us that (unless she is giving herself to Yahweh in celibacy), widows who are of childbearing age should remarry, and bear children unto Yahweh.

TimaTheus Aleph (1st Timothy) 5:14
14 Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully.

However, those who are put away for sexual immorality are not free to remarry. If they do remarry, then they can never go back to their first husband.

Yeshua tells us that it is adultery for a man to marry a woman who has been put away for sexual immorality (because she is still married).

Mattityahu (Matthew) 5:31-32
31 “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’
32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.”

The reason it is adulterous is that it breaks an existing marital covenant.

Now in order to fully understand the drama that was going on in the first century, we need to know that there are two main schools of thought in rabbinical Judaism. One is called Beit Shammai, and the other is called Beit Hillel. Beit Shammai (the house of Shammai) teaches that marriage is a sacred institution, and that divorce is only justified when there is a very serious breach of the marital covenant (such as adultery).

The second school of thought is Beit Hillel (the house of Hillel). Beit Hillel teaches that a man can divorce his wife for literally just about any reason. According to Beit Hillel, a man can divorce his wife if she displeases him in any way, as if she was his “property.” This reduces marriage to a simple financial deal.

In old times, when women had dowries, if the man divorced his wife, Beit Hillel would tell him simply to “refund” the dowry, and that was it. No matter how old she was, and how many children she had borne him, he just had to put a piece of paper into her hand, send her and her children away, and then he was done with the financial transaction forever. This school of thought is grotesquely evil, yet it dominates the rabbinic world today, both within Orthodox and Messianic worship. Not only that, it prevails in most secular court systems. Today the dowry has been replaced by alimony and child support, but any state that allows for a “no-fault” divorce is essentially in the Beit Hillel camp. But what is so shocking is how many Messianic leaders teach this very thing, even though we will see how it directly contradicts Yeshua’s teachings.

Beit Hillel teaches that a man can divorce his wife if she spoils his food, fails to cover her head in public, speaks critically of his mother, or displeases him in any way. Rabbi Akiva even went so far as to say that a man could divorce his wife if he found someone else more attractive. In short, Beit Hillel teaches that a man can divorce and remarry for literally just about any reason.

[Talmud Tractate Gittin 90a]
MISHNAH. BETH SHAMMAI SAY: A MAN SHOULD NOT DIVORCE HIS WIFE UNLESS HE HAS FOUND HER GUILTY OF SOME UNSEEMLY CONDUCT, AS IT SAYS, BECAUSE HE HATH FOUND SOME UNSEEMLY THING [1] IN HER.
[2] BETH HILLEL, HOWEVER, SAY [THAT HE MAY DIVORCE HER] EVEN IF SHE HAS MERELY SPOILT HIS FOOD, [3] SINCE IT SAYS, [4] BECAUSE HE HATH FOUND SOME UNSEEMLY THING IN HER.
[5] R. AKIBA SAYS, [HE MAY DIVORCE HER] EVEN IF HE FINDS ANOTHER WOMAN MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN SHE IS, AS IT SAYS, IT COMETH TO PASS, IF SHE FIND NO FAVOUR IN HIS EYES. [6]

In Matthew 19 (below), the Pharisees came to Yeshua and asked him if it was alright to put one’s wife away “for just any reason.” In verse 3 where it says they were “testing” Yeshua, they probably wanted to see if they could get him to condemn King Herod’s marriage of Herodias, so that King Herod would imprison or kill Him (right along with Yochanan HaMatbil).

Mattityahu (Matthew) 19:3-9
3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’
5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?
6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what Elohim has joined together, let not man separate.”
7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moshe command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”
8 He said to them, “Moshe, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.
9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”

It is not that Yeshua sided with Beit Shammai in the matter of divorce and adultery. Rather, it is that Beit Shammai agreed with Scripture (in this particular case).

Yahweh told Hoshea (Hosea) to take a harlot for a wife (symbolic of Ephraim). This was so His people could see the kind of love and dedication He has toward us, even though we are unfaithful to Him.

Hoshea (Hosea) 1:2
2 When Yahweh began to speak by Hoshea, Yahweh said to Hoshea: “Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry And children of harlotry, For the land has committed great harlotry By departing from Yahweh.”

Even though Hoshea’s wife Gomer continued to stray, Hoshea stayed faithful to her. When she sold herself, he even sought her out, and paid the price to redeem her. All of this was to show the kind of faithfulness and undying love that Yahweh and Yeshua have toward us.

Hoshea (Hosea) 3:1-5
1 Then Yahweh said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by a lover and is committing adultery, just like the love of Yahweh for the children of Israel, who look to other gods and love the raisin cakes of the pagans.”
2 So I bought her for myself for fifteen shekels of silver, and one and one-half homers of barley.
3 And I said to her, “You shall stay with me many days; you shall not play the harlot, nor shall you have a man — so, too, will I be toward you.”
4 For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, without ephod or teraphim.
5 Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek Yahweh their Elohim and David their king. They shall fear Yahweh and His goodness in the latter days.”

Scripture does not tell us that Hoshea wrote Gomer a certificate of divorce. We do not know why, but perhaps because he knew from the start that he was marrying a whore, it seemed pointless. Alternately, perhaps he knew that his job was to be as patient with Gomer as he possibly could, to show how patient Yahweh is with us. Yet no matter why Hoshea never wrote Gomer a certificate of divorce, if Yahweh gives us an example of staying faithful to His bride even when she strays, shouldn’t we seek to emulate His example?

Yahweh’s heart is not to divorce our wives, and send them away when they stray. Rather, Yahweh’s heart is that when we take a wife, we have taken a wife for life. We are to pursue her, and try to win her back, even if she continues to commit harlotry. We are not to “stand on our rights,” give her a certificate of divorce, and send her away—we are supposed to accept what Yahweh gives us, and pray for our spouse forever.

The Torah gives us a collection of laws, statutes, and judgments that Yahweh expects us to live by, in order to refine ourselves into a bride worthy of Him. However, it would be a mistake to think of the Torah as nothing more than a set of laws that we can use as a checklist for righteous living, because the Torah is so much more than that. If we do not approach the Torah as a reflection of Yahweh’s heart, we miss a lot, because we fail to grasp the extent of Yahweh’s love, His mercy, and His sense of self-sacrifice.

Yahweh’s Torah (instructions) can be subdivided into statutes, ordinances, judgments, etc.

Melachim Bet (2nd Kings) 17:37
37 “And the statutes, the ordinances, the law (i.e., rules) and the commandment which He wrote for you, you shall be careful to observe forever; you shall not fear other gods.”

Just like in human society, statutes and ordinances are for normal, everyday situations. For example, we might have “no dumping” statutes, and ordinances that tell us what we can and cannot do. However, His “judgments” tell us what to do when things have gone wrong. When the situation is all messed up, and the normal statutes, ordinances, laws, and decrees cannot be applied as they were intended, now the only solution is for a judge (and in this case, Yahweh) to step in and make a determination as to how to minimize the damage. If we revisit Deuteronomy, the woman has been put away for adultery, but rather than coming back to her man, she has gone ahead and remarried (although she should not have done that). We know that this is the case because, as we saw earlier, the word for “uncleanness” in verse 1 refers to sexual uncleanness (i.e., adultery).

Deuteronomy 24:1-4
1 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some (sexual) uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house,
2 when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife,
3 if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife,
4 then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before YHWH, and you shall not bring sin on the land which YHWH your Elohim is giving you as an inheritance.”

(1) כִּי יִקַּח אִישׁ אִשָּׁה וּבְעָלָהּ | וְהָיָה אִם לֹא תִמְצָא חֵן בְּעֵינָיו כִּי מָצָא בָהּ עֶרְוַת דָּבָר וְכָתַב לָהּ סֵפֶר כְּרִיתֻת וְנָתַן בְּיָדָהּ וְשִׁלְּחָהּ מִבֵּיתוֹ:
(2) וְיָצְאָה מִבֵּיתוֹ | וְהָלְכָה וְהָיְתָה לְאִישׁ אַחֵר:
(3) וּשְׂנֵאָהּ הָאִישׁ הָאַחֲרוֹן וְכָתַב לָהּ סֵפֶר כְּרִיתֻת וְנָתַן בְּיָדָהּ וְשִׁלְּחָהּ מִבֵּיתוֹ | אוֹ כִי יָמוּת הָאִישׁ הָאַחֲרוֹן אֲשֶׁר לְקָחָהּ לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה:
(4) לֹא יוּכַל בַּעְלָהּ הָרִאשׁוֹן אֲשֶׁר שִׁלְּחָהּ לָשׁוּב לְקַחְתָּהּ לִהְיוֹת לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה אַחֲרֵי אֲשֶׁר הֻטַּמָּאָה כִּי תוֹעֵבָה הִוא לִפְנֵי יְהוָה | וְלֹא תַחֲטִיא אֶת הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה

Now to understand Yahweh’s heart, in any army, new recruits go to basic training, to learn what the rules are. This is similar to how Yahweh “laid down the law” in Leviticus 20:10, establishing the penalty for adultery, which is death by stoning.

Vayiqra (Leviticus) 20:10
10 “The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death.”

However, because we all sin, we all need Yahweh’s mercy—therefore Yahweh gave us Deuteronomy 24, which shows us how we can correct an adulterous wife, by putting her away. In a sense this is better than stoning, because it shows more mercy. Deuteronomy 24 is a judgment because it shows us the best solution for a bad situation. It also gives us further direction if our wayward bride complicates matters by marrying someone else, rather than returning to her man.

While Yahweh has impeccably high standards, and while He sets the penalty for breaking a marriage vow at death, He also wants His bride to be compassionate. This kind of compassion is why Yosef (Joseph) the half-father of Yeshua was called “righteous” (or “just”) when he decided to put his betrothed away (rather than stone her), when he learned that she was already pregnant.

Mattityahu (Matthew) 1:19-21
19 Then Yoseph her husband, being a just (“righteous”) man, and not wanting to make her a public example (by having her stoned), was minded to put her away secretly.

In this case, because they had not already married, Yoseph was going to put Miriam (Mary) away forever. This was lawful because although Yoseph and Miriam were betrothed, they had not yet consummated the marriage. What this shows is that while all marriages are inviolable covenants, they also follow the same rules as contract law, which requires an offer, and then acceptance, and then an exchange of “consideration” of some kind. In this case the offer was to marry for life, the acceptance was just that, and the consideration was the consummation (i.e., the first sexual act). Since the marriage had not yet been consummated, there had been no exchange of consideration, and therefore they were not yet in covenant. It was perfectly lawful for Yosef to back out of the deal on the basis that things were not as Yoseph had been led to believe.

A contract can have any terms that all parties agree to, and it can last for any length of time they agree to. However, covenants go one step beyond this, in that covenants are for life. Because marriage is a covenant, Yeshua tells us that marriage lasts for life.

Mattityahu (Matthew) 19:3-9
3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’
5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?
6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what Elohim has joined together, let not man separate.”

Marriage is not established by just any sexual act, but rather by offer, acceptance, and consummation (or what lawyers call “consideration”). Once these three things occur, the terms of the contract are binding. For example, the offer King Shaul gave David for the hand of his daughter Michal was one hundred foreskins of the Philistines (Palestinians), which David paid.

Shemuel Aleph (1st Samuel) 18:25-27
25 Then Shaul said, “Thus you shall say to David: ‘The king does not desire any dowry but one hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to take vengeance on the king’s enemies.'” But Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines.
26 So when his servants told David these words, it pleased David well to become the king’s son-in-law. Now the days had not expired;
27 therefore David arose and went, he and his men, and killed two hundred men of the Philistines. And David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full count to the king, that he might become the king’s son-in-law. Then Shaul gave him Michal his daughter as a wife.

After the Protestant Reformation, western society lost all sense of the sanctity of marriage. Marriage is a set-apart institution. Once we take a wife, it is our job to love her, just as much as Messiah loves us.

Ephesim (Ephesians) 5:25-33
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Messiah also loved the assembly and gave Himself for her,
26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,
27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious assembly, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be set apart and without blemish.
28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.
29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Master does the assembly.
30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.
31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Messiah and the assembly.
33 Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

The western misconception that divorce is permanent redefines the terms of the covenant. It fails to capture the essence of the term “wedding,” which calls for a man and his wife to become one single flesh.

B’reisheet (Genesis) 2:24
24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

When we redefine marriage as lasting less than life, we are essentially asserting that our own authority is greater than Yahweh’s. Not only is it wrong, it is effectively rebellion against Elohim’s law.

But what happens when things go really wrong? And what happens when we do not live in the land of Israel, and the Torah is not our constitution? In order to know how we can apply the Torah in these kinds of situations, it will be necessary for us to understand Yahweh’s heart. Then we can understand what principles to apply in the kind of “train wreck” situations in which so many of our people live today.

Corporate Responsibility: Foundation of Torah

Corporate responsibility is an essential part of keeping the Torah. In Yahweh’s eyes, if the men are not willing to implement justice corporately, then they are not keeping Torah—and they are just kidding themselves if they say they are, because they are not.

One of the reasons Yahweh gives the power and authority to the men is that He holds them responsible. They are to use their strength to make sure that His instructions are carried out, and that justice prevails. They are to make sure that each man’s wife is taken care of in the same manner that they would like their own daughters to be treated.

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 22:13-19
13 “If any man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and detests her,
14 and charges her with shameful conduct, and brings a bad name on her, and says, ‘I took this woman, and when I came to her I found she was not a virgin,’
15 then the father and mother of the young woman shall take and bring out the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate.
16 And the young woman’s father shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man as wife, and he detests her.
17 Now he has charged her with shameful conduct, saying, “I found your daughter was not a virgin,” and yet these are the evidences of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city.
18 Then the elders of that city shall take that man and punish (i.e., beat) him;
19 and they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name on a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife; he cannot divorce her all his days.”

In this passage, a hypothetical Israelite man takes an Israelite woman as his wife, and later tries to get out of the marriage by saying she was not a virgin (when she was). In technical terms he is trying to claim that the contract is null and void because the terms and conditions of the contract were not met (i.e., that she was not a virgin). It was lawful for Yosef to back out of his marriage with Miriam when Miriam was pregnant, but in this case, the investigation proves that she was a virgin (i.e., she lived up to her end of the bargain). The solution here is for the men of the town to take the man out and punish him (which is a polite way of saying that they are to beat him within an inch of his life).

Had the woman truly not been a virgin, and the man’s heart was hard, it would have been lawful for him either to put her away, or have her stoned. However, since she was proven a virgin, the men of the community have a responsibility to ensure that either he lives up to his end of the agreement (and loves her as he loves himself), or they need to take him outside the camp, and stone him.

The Christian West has a concept of privacy that does not exist in Israel. In order for the Torah to work, people have to hold each other accountable; and in order for people to hold each other accountable, we all need to take responsibility for what others do. The “polite” English saying, “That is none of your business!” does not apply in Israel, because people understand that a little bit of leaven leavens the whole lump, and what one man does affects everyone else in the nation. That is why, in Israel, people make no apologies about sticking their noses deeply into everyone else’s affairs. It is understood that the purpose of being aware of others is not to be malicious or to gossip, but to see to it that if an injustice is done, it is promptly addressed. This is also why Shaul named names when it came not just to giving compliments, but also in pointing out those who were not being brotherly.

TimaTheus Bet (2nd Timothy) 4:14-16
14 Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May Yahweh repay him according to his works.
15 You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words.
16 At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.

[For more information, please see the study, “Lashon Hara: The Evil Tongue.”]

It is ironic that the idea of corporate responsibility is ridiculed in the Messianic movement, because it is part of the Torah. When even just one man sins, Yahweh holds our whole nation accountable, and He punishes all of us. For example, consider what happened at Ai.

Yehoshua (Joshua) 7:1-5
1 But the children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accursed things, for Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed things; so the anger of Yahweh burned against the children of Israel.
2 Now Yehoshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Beth Aven, on the east side of Bethel, and spoke to them, saying, “Go up and spy out the country.” So the men went up and spied out Ai.
3 And they returned to Yehoshua and said to him, “Do not let all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not weary all the people there, for the people of Ai are few.”
4 So about three thousand men went up there from the people, but they fled before the men of Ai.
5 And the men of Ai struck down about thirty-six men, for they chased them from before the gate as far as Shebarim, and struck them down on the descent; therefore the hearts of the people melted and became like water.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we are all subject to collective punishment, and we are all paying a price for others’ sins. There is little we can do about this while we are still in the dispersion. However, when we return back home to the land and we establish a Torah government, we will once again have Yahweh’s Torah as the supreme law of the courts (and the schools and media). At that time we will once again be able to establish a sense of corporate responsibility, so that women and children are no longer abandoned.

I used to wonder why Yahweh created an adversary, when an adversary seeks to destroy us. Then I realized that we can rejoice in the existence of an adversary because his function is really to bring us together, and to unify us. As in sports, when we have an opponent, we have to learn how to work well together. The presence of an enemy forces us to put aside our personal differences, and we all work together as a team. It brings out the best in us.

Our forefathers said, “United we stand, divided we fall,” and when I joined the army, our drill instructors would hold the entire unit accountable for anything that went wrong. At first we thought that was unfair, until we realized they were trying to teach us the need to unite as one. They were trying to help us understand that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and if even just one man is remiss in his duties, it can spell death or bodily mutilation for the whole. By placing the monkey on our backs, they would get us to order ourselves. This was realistic in every way, because when an enemy attacks, he looks for the weakest link, and by exploiting that weak link he is able to kill or incapacitate many others who are doing their jobs.

Because we men have not done our jobs, and because we men have not treated our women the right way, Satan has been able to convince the women that it is not safe to submit to male headship. This has helped lead to such evils as “no-fault divorce” and the general destruction of male headship in the Christian world. Because we are subject to collective punishment, and because we all pay a price when others sin, these evils will be with us until we come together as one, and show the women that we will not allow our brothers to abandon them.

Exception to the Rules: Marriages to Unbelievers

In Scripture, purity is essential. We have a requirement to set apart (or keep pure) anything that belongs to Yahweh. We are to keep our bodies, our marriages, our families, our assemblies, His temple, and our form of worship pure. This rule holds true no matter where we are, but the closer we physically come to the Temple Mount, the more urgency this principle takes on.

Yahweh tells us that when we live in the land, we are not to enter into any covenant with those who do not believe on Him, lest Yahweh’s wrath be aroused against us, and He destroys us suddenly.

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 7:1-4
1 “When Yahweh your Elohim brings you into the land which you go to possess, and has cast out many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than you,
2 and when Yahweh your Elohim delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them.
3 Nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son.
4 For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other elohim; so the anger of Yahweh will be aroused against you and destroy you suddenly.”

As emotionally difficult as it may seem, we may not be married to a nonbeliever when we live in His land. When Yahweh makes it possible for us to return home, and we go back home, then either our nonbelieving spouse needs to convert, or we need to put our nonbelieving spouse away. These are the only two options. This is why, when the children of Israel were returning from Babylon, Ezra correctly told the people to send away any wives and children who worshipped foreign elohim (and who refused to convert).

Ezra 10:2-3
2 And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, spoke up and said to Ezra, “We have trespassed against our Elohim, and have taken pagan wives from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope in Israel in spite of this.
3 Now therefore, let us make a covenant with our Elohim to put away all these wives and those who have been born to them, according to the advice of my master and of those who tremble at the commandment of our Elohim; and let it be done according to the Torah.”

Obviously, whether we live in the land of Israel or not, we should take care not to enter into marriage with unbelievers, because that is to be unequally yoked.

Qorintim Bet (2nd Corinthians) 6:14-17
14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?
15 And what accord has Messiah with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?
16 And what agreement has the temple of Elohim with idols? For you are the temple of the living Elohim. As Elohim has said: “I will dwell in them
And walk among them.
I will be their Elohim,
And they shall be My people.”
17 Therefore,
“Come out from among them
And be separate, says Yahweh.”

Unequal yokings happen all the time. It also happens that two unbelievers get married and one of them later gets saved (or one of them finds Hebrew roots). What do we do in these cases? Shaul’s advice is that when we are in the dispersion we should not divorce, but that each one should remain in the calling in which he is called. That is, we should remain as we are. If the unbeliever chooses to depart, then we do not need to wait for him or her to return (because our original requirement is not to be unequally yoked). However, unless it is a question of moving to the land, we are not supposed to be the ones to leave. Rather, we should seek every opportunity to be a good witness for Yahweh and Yeshua.

Qorintim Aleph (1st Corinthians) 7:10-16
10 Now to the married I command, yet not I but Yahweh: A wife is not to depart from her husband.
11 But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife.
12 But to the rest I, not Yahweh, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her.
13 And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him.
14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are set apart.
15 But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But Elohim has called us to peace.
16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?

The rules for the dispersion are different than the rules for the land because the requirement to keep the land from being defiled does not come into play. There is no urgency to divorce because there is no defilement of Yahweh’s land. Therefore in cases like this, it is Shaul’s opinion that unless there is some compelling reason to do otherwise, as long as we are in the dispersion we should remain as we are.

Qorintim Aleph (1st Corinthians) 7:26-28
26 I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress — that it is good for a man to remain as he is:
27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife.
28 But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you.

There are, however, cases in which there is probably a compelling reason either to divorce or legally separate. For example, if your wife joins Al Qaeda and starts shouting “Death to the infidels!” while sharpening her butcher knife (Elohim forbid), it may be necessary to seek legal separation or divorce.

In real life, if your husband begins sodomizing your children (Elohim forbid), that is a compelling reason to seek legal separation or divorce, because in the land of Israel under a Torah government such a crime would be cause for death by stoning, which would release the woman from the marriage. We cannot apply Torah justice while we are in the dispersion, so the principle is that we should do the best that we can for the health, safety, and welfare of the children. In the dispersion that probably means legal separation or divorce.

Right Rulings: Concubines and Slaves

Hopefully Israel will not see any more concubines or slaves, but because it will help to give clarity, let us look at the legal rights of concubines and slaves here. [We discuss concubines and slaves more generally in the study “Polygyny, Concubines, and Kingship.”]

Under most normal circumstances, when dealing with Israelites who have full rights as citizens, marriage is supposed to last forever. However, in the case of slaves and concubines this was not always the case because not all parties entering into the contract had full legal ownership of themselves (therefore they were not able to enter into legal contracts).

In general, Yahweh loves freedom and redemption; He hates slavery. He tells us that He wants us to “break off every yoke.”

Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 58:6
6 “Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?”

Yahweh is idealistic, but He is also realistic. He knew that no matter how perfect an example He set, sometimes His people’s hearts would be hard, and they would choose to take concubines or slaves. For this reason He gives us certain judgments and right rulings with regards to these awkward, awful situations.

If a man became a slave when he already had a wife, then his wife was supposed to go out with him at the end of his service because his covenant with her existed prior to coming into slavery. However, if his master gave him a wife after he entered into slavery (and they had children together), then she and her children were not to go out with him at the end of his service. For one thing, the marriage may not have been entered into on a free will basis (which is a necessary condition of covenanting). For another thing, as a slave he did not have full legal rights to himself, therefore he was not able to pledge himself in a covenant.

Shemote (Exodus) 21:1-11
1 “Now these are the judgments which you shall set before them:
2 If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing.
3 If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him.
4 If his master has given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself.
5 But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’
6 then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.

If the man loved his wife and children, he had the option of becoming his master’s slave forever. Other than that, he had to leave his wife and children behind.

Female slaves were to be treated differently. They did not have the right to go out at the end of six years as the male slaves did. Perhaps it is because a woman was thought to need some kind of a covering, and her father had transferred that duty to her master. The exact meaning of this passage is disputed, but in this case it seems likely that the daughter was sold as a concubine (i.e., as a wife without full legal rights).

7 “And if a man sells his daughter to be a female slave, she shall not go out (at the end of six years) as the male slaves do.
8 If she does not please her master, who has betrothed her to himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt deceitfully with her.
9 And if he has betrothed her to his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters.
10 If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights.
11 And if he does not do these three for her, then she shall go out free, without paying money.”

Historically, a poor man might sell his daughter as a concubine to a rich man. Because she was technically a slave, she did not have full legal rights to treatment as a wife under the Torah, and her master could send her away for reasons other than sexual immorality. However, if he did so, her father was not obligated to repay the bride price. Further, if the rich man took another wife and then did not give her adequate food and clothing, and/or did not treat her as a wife should be treated (with love), then she was allowed to go free, and her father would not have to repay the bride price.

Another woman who had less than full legal protection under the covenant was Hagar.

B’reisheet (Genesis) 21:9-12
9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Avraham, scoffing.
10 Therefore she said to Avraham, “Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Yitzhak.”
11 And the matter was very displeasing in Avraham’s sight because of his son.
12 But Elohim said to Avraham, “Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Yitzhak your seed shall be called.”

This passage shows us a deep insight into Yahweh’s heart. Hagar was a bondwoman. She was never Avraham’s wife, but only served as a surrogate mother for Sarah. Although Yahweh hates slavery and He hates sending away, this passage shows us that He hates slavery more. Yahweh told Avraham to listen to Sarah’s voice, and to send Hagar and Ishmael away. This was not only because Yahweh had a plan to make Ishmael into a great nation, but also because it would mean freedom for Hagar and Ishmael.

Where Are We Now?

It is shocking to realize how many Messianics believe we can divorce our wives “for just any reason.”

Mattityahu (Matthew) 19:3
3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”

Yahweh tells us that He hates divorce. It covers His altar with weeping because it creates so many victims. How can anyone not intuitively recognize this fact?

Malachi 2:13-16
13 And this is the second thing you do: you cover the altar of Yahweh with tears, with weeping and crying; so He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with goodwill from your hands.
14 Yet you say, “For what reason?” Because YHWH has been witness between you and the wife of your youth (i.e., your first wife), with whom you have dealt treacherously. Yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant.
15 But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks righteous offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth.
16 “For YHWH Elohim of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence,” says YHWH of hosts. “Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”

Just because we keep the Sabbath and festival days, we are not permitted to abandon our wives and children. That would be legalistic hypocrisy. How could Yahweh ever be pleased with that?

The Messianic movement today is filled with the exact same kind of hypocrisy Yahweh said that He hates. It wearies Him that we would pretend to be so righteous simply because we keep Sabbaths, new moons, and festival days, when our “garments are covered with violence” and our “hands are full of blood” at having put our brothers and sisters away wrongly.

Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 1:13-15
13 Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies — I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.
14 Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; they are a trouble to Me,
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you. Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.

Two thousand years after Yeshua’s sacrifice, we His people (who claim to be filled with His Spirit) still practice the same kind of “easy divorce” that Yeshua decried in the first century. We still adhere to Beit Hillel. How will we escape His chastisement?

We don’t know what happened to Gomer, but we know what will happen with Ephraim. Yahweh will bring her back home to the land of Israel in spite of herself, and then she will look upon herself and be ashamed. Her evil heart of stone will be turned into a heart of flesh. Then she will love her spouse as she loves herself.

Yehezqel (Ezekiel) 36:24-32
24 For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land.
25 Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.
26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.
28 Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your Elohim.
29 I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. I will call for the grain and multiply it, and bring no famine upon you.
30 And I will multiply the fruit of your trees and the increase of your fields, so that you need never again bear the reproach of famine among the nations.
31 Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight, for your iniquities and your abominations.
32 Not for your sake do I do this,” says YHWH Elohim, “let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel!”

More than just knowing Torah, we need to live Torah. We need to develop YHWH’s heart. We need to put aside our own selfish lusts and desires, so we can put others first. Without this, there is no Torah.

Help us to know our sins, Father. And then please help us repent of them, that we might be conformed to the image of Your Son. Please help us to have Your heart, that we may serve You all our days.

In Yeshua’s name, amein.

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